The Grey Brother
Sir Walter Scott wrote The Grey Brother whilst living at Lasswade Cottage between 1798 and 1804.
A being whom no blessed word
To ghostly peace can bring,
A wretch at whose approach abhorred
Recoils each holy thing.
Up, up, unhappy! haste, arise!
My adjuration fear!
I charge thee not to stop my voice,
Nor longer tarry here ! ‘
Amid them all a pilgrim kneeled
In gown of sackcloth grey;
Far journeying from his native field,
He first saw Rome that day.
For forty days and nights so drear
I ween he had not spoke,
And, save with bread and water clear,
His fast he ne’er had broke.
Amid the penitential flock,
Seemed none more bent to pray;
But when the Holy Father spoke
He rose and went his way.
Again unto his native land
His weary course he drew,
To Lothian’s fair and fertile strand,
And Pentland’s mountains blue.
His unblest feet his native seat
Mid Eske’s fair woods regain;
Through woods more fair no stream more sweet
Rolls to the eastern main.
And lords to meet the pilgrim came,
And vassals bent the knee ;
For all mid Scotland’s chiefs of fame
Was none more famed than he.
And boldly for his country still
In battle he had stood,
Ay, even when on the banks of Till
Her noblest poured their blood.
Sweet are the paths, O passing sweet!
By Eske’s fair streams that run,
O’er airy steep through copsewood deep,
Impervious to the sun.
There the rapt poet’s step may rove.
And yield the muse the day;
There Beauty, led by timid Love,
May shun the telltale ray;
From that fair dome where suit is paid
By blast of bugle free
To Auchendinny’s hazel glade
And haunted Woodhouselee.
Who knows not Melville’s beechy grove
And Roslin’s rocky glen,
Dalkeith, which all the virtues love,
And classic Hawthornden?’
Yet never a path from day to day
The pilgrim’s footsteps range,
Save but the solitary way
To Burndale’s ruined grange.
A woful place was that, I ween,
As sorrow could desire;
For nodding to the fall was each crumbling wall,
And the roof was scathed with fire.
It fell upon a summer’s eve.
While on Carnethy’s head
The last faint gleams of the sun’s low beams
Had streaked the grey with red,
And the convent bell did vespers tell
Newbattle’s oaks among,
And mingled with the solemn knell
Our Ladye’s evening song;
The heavy knell, the choir’s faint swell,
Came slowly down the wind,
And on the pilgrim’s ear they fell,
As his wonted path he did find.
Deep sunk in thought, I ween, he was,
Nor ever raised his eye,
Until he came to that dreary place
Which did all in ruins lie.
He gazed on the walls, so scathed with fire,
With many a bitter groan —
And there was aware of a Grey Friar
Resting him on a stone.
‘ Now, Christ thee save ! ‘ said the Grey Brother ;
‘Some pilgrim thou seemest to be.’
But in sore amaze did Lord Albert gaze,
Nor answer again made he.
O, come ye from east or come ye from west,
Or bring reliques from over the sea ;
Or come ye from the shrine of Saint James the divine,
Or Saint John of Beverley?’
I come not from the shrine of Saint James the divine,
Nor bring reliques from over the sea;
I bring but a curse from our father, the Pope,
Which forever will cling to me.’
‘Now, woful pilgrim, say not so!
But kneel thee down to me.
And shrive thee so clean of thy deadly sin
That absolved thou mayst be.’
‘And who art thou, thou Grey Brother,
That I should shrive to thee.
When He to whom are given the keys of earth and
Has no power to pardon me?
O, I am sent from a distant clime, I
Five thousand miles away,
And all to absolve a foul, foul crime.
Done here ‘twixt night and day.’
The pilgrim kneeled him on the sand.
And thus began his saye —
When on his neck an ice-cold hand
Did that Grey Brother laye.